Kurt's Historic Sites

Johnson

Andrew Johnson

Interment Location Visited Sequence in Graves I Have Visited
Greeneville, TN July 18, 2006 29th President visited; 12th Vice President visited

Photographed July 19, 2006.

Many iterations of the relationship between the Legislative and Executive branches have been strained, but few have been as acrimonious as the one between the 39th and 40th Congresses and President Andrew Johnson. In fewer than four full years in office Johnson had 15 vetoes overridden by the legislature, a record which stands to this day. Divided by drastically different visions of how to proceed with Reconstruction in the wake of the Civil War, the Republican-led House of Representatives impeached Johnson in 1868, making him the first president to stand trial in the Senate and face removal. By a margin of one vote, the Senate acquitted Johnson and kept him in office for the remainder of the 1865-1869 term.

Johnson was the lone southern U.S. senator to remain loyal to the Union during the Civil War, and this made him an appealing figure to be named as President Abraham Lincoln’s running mate on the National Union ticket (the Republican Party strategically used this unity-invoking name for the 1864 campaign). Whereas Honest Abe’s policies ran the gamut of what could be viewed as progressive, moderate, and conservative by modern standards, the man who took over the White House after Lincoln’s 1865 assassination took a singular path. The informational sign near the Johnson burial plot in Greeneville, Tennessee, says the 17th president’s “political philosophy was based upon a strict interpretation of the Constitution, a belief in states’ rights, […] and a conservative attitude toward government spending.” Other than mentioning his support of the misleading and vague states’ rights doctrine, the sign does not broach the details of what caused Reconstruction expert Eric Foner to describe Johnson as “incorrigibly racist” and “a leading contender for worst president in American history.”

Photographed July 19, 2006.
Photographed July 19, 2006.

The imposing obelisk that the former president and Mrs. Eliza Johnson share is 27 feet of marble. It was dedicated in June 1878 following Andrew and Eliza’s deaths in 1875 and 1876, respectively. Andrew Johnson once said, “When I die, I want no more winding sheet than that of the brave old flag… and no softer pillow than the Constitution of my country.” In keeping with those sentiments, Johnson’s flag-draped body was laid upon a copy of the U.S. Constitution within his casket. During the Johnsons’ lifetimes the knoll upon which they were eventually buried was called “Signal Hill,” but its moniker has since been changed to “Monument Hill” for self-explanatory reasons.

Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that the chart atop this page lists July 18, 2006 as the day I first visited the Johnson gravesite, but the photographs are dated July 19th. That is because on the evening of the 18th — when it was too dark to take pictures — my father and I entered through the cemetery’s pedestrian gate and scaled the staircase to Monument Hill. We returned for these photographs the next day after we toured two of the three other components of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, located elsewhere in Greeneville.

Photographed July 19, 2006.

Fast Facts

Born: December 29, 1808 in Raleigh, North Carolina

Spouse: Eliza McCardle Johnson (m. 1827-1875)

Primary Political Affiliation: Democratic Party

Vice Presidential Term: 1865 under Abraham Lincoln

Presidential Term: 1865-1869

Vice President: Vacant

Died: July 31, 1875 in Elizabethton, Tennessee

Cause of Death: Stroke

Age: 66

Interment: Andrew Johnson National Cemetery, Greeneville, Tennessee

"I am for the Government of my fathers with negroes. I am for it without negroes. Before I would see this Government destroyed I would see every negro back in Africa, and Africa disintegrated and blotted out of space."
- Andrew Johnson
February 26, 1863 in a speech addressed to an audience at the Great Union Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana

Sources Consulted

Foner, Eric. “Worst President in History.” London Review of Books 42, no. 18 (2020). Accessed January 8, 2022. https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v42/n18/eric-foner/worst-president-in-history.

Johnson, Andrew. “Gov. Johnson’s Speech.” In The Great Union Meeting, reported for the Indianapolis Daily Journal, 3-7. February 26, 1863. https://archive.org/details/greatunionmeetin00john/page/6/mode/2up.

Picone, Louis L. The President is Dead! The Extraordinary Stories of the Presidential Deaths, Final Days, Burials, and Beyond. Rev. ed. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2020.

Unites States House of Representatives: History, Art, & Archives. “Presidential Vetoes.” Updated January 1, 2021. https://history.house.gov/Institution/Presidential-Vetoes/Presidential-Vetoes/.

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